27 May 2009

The Desert Experience

The prophet Jeremiah idealized the desert experience of the Israelites. For him, it was not their worst time but their best. He expressed it in poetic terms:

I remember the devotion of your youth,
how you loved me as a bride.
Following me in the desert,
in a land unknown. (Jeremiah 2:2)

Not that he or other inspired writers neglected to point out the contrast between verdant pastures and gardens, on the one hand, and arid wastelands and solitude, on the other. In fact, it was solitude and the absence of distractions that gave the desert its distinct beauty. It was there that God alone mattered. It was into the desert that the Lord would allure His beloved. “I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” (Hosea 2:16)

We still speak today of “the desert experience” and recognize its value. Inevitably, poets, the most introspective of all people, express it best. “The world is too much with us,” Wordsworth wrote. Jesus led His disciples off into quiet places from time to time, as important as it was for Him and for them to be with people, to address crowds and to heal those sick in body, heart and soul.

The desert experience is something everyone can know and, in fact, must have, to one degree or another. It is not desertion. The irony is that people who are surrounded by noise and constantly active are the ones who feel deserted. It is in solitude that the soul can listen and be alone with God. It is in solitude that we are least alone.

The Church has always known that the desert experience, inner peace, quiet prayer, silence, contemplation are essential components of a devout Christian’s spiritual life. They are needed though unfortunately too often neglected in our Liturgies. They are essential in our private prayer. And they are the principal features of the contemplative life.

Most Reverend Frank J. Rodimer